Medicaid pharmacy divestment in Albany hurts rural health care | News, Sports, Work

America is facing a significant shortage of doctors, and nowhere is this more evident than in rural New York State.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. is expected to lack up to 124,000 physicians by 2034 as practitioners age out of the profession or choose to leave due to the strain caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Upstate — and Western New York in particular — has struggled for years to attract enough doctors to meet demand and ensure residents have access to high-quality, affordable care.

Rural residents also have to travel greater distances for treatment, living on average at least five miles further from the nearest hospital than their suburban and urban counterparts.

Extreme weather, lack of public transportation, and high gas prices make these trips unaffordable for many patients—especially those on lower incomes.

That’s why the Chautauqua Center prioritizes meeting patients where they are and providing services directly to them whenever possible. Our home drug delivery service delivers life-saving prescriptions to the doorsteps of more than 760 people every month. And we regularly provide transportation to appointments for the more than 12,000 patients we serve.

These critical services are made possible through our participation in 340B, a 30-year-old federal program that requires drug manufacturers to provide deep discounts so that safety net providers can use the savings to provide care to uninsured and underserved New Yorkers. This funding stream allows safety facilities to offer services not covered by Medicaid.

In addition to the delivery and transportation of medications, Chautauqua Center uses 340B funds to provide free blood pressure monitors, in-house translation services, help with chronic pain management and nutrition counseling – all at no additional cost to taxpayers.

That critical funding stream is now in jeopardy as a result of a change first proposed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo before the Covid-19 crisis and scheduled to be implemented next spring. In short, the state health department wants to divert $340 billion in savings away from safety net providers and into its own coffers, resulting in more than $250 million in annual losses for community-based health facilities annually.

According to the Department of Health, eliminating the Medicaid pharmacy benefit would result in savings of at least $125 million in the first year of implementation. But a 2020 Weakley Consulting Group report found that the state would actually incur an additional $154 million in costs, rising to $1.5 billion over five years.

These funds support life-saving care and are also flexible and predictable, allowing providers to respond to unexpected public health crises like COVID-19 more quickly and efficiently. Without that revenue, services will be cut, jobs will be lost, and some clinics in medically underserved communities will close altogether. Almost two-thirds of the Chautauqua Center’s annual budget consists of $340 billion.

The loss of 340B funds will disproportionately harm lower-income members of communities of color who have long experienced disparities in access to quality health care. Forty percent of Chautauqua Center’s patients are members of racial or ethnic minority groups, and just over 80 percent are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

The pandemic has forced providers to rethink how they deliver care to vulnerable patients and keep them safe. Telehealth, which enabled people to speak virtually with medical professionals, was an important tool – particularly in underserved rural areas – that remains a key aspect of our services. But access to medicines and personal treatment are still necessary to provide high-quality care.

The Chautauqua Center is experiencing a growing demand for services for hard-to-reach people, including members of the Amish community, migrant farm workers and the urban homeless, all of whom face transportation challenges. We are committed to continuing to provide a high level of care to these emerging populations as well as our existing patients, but we will not be able to do so if Albany insists on moving forward with the separation.

We call on the Governor to rescind this outdated and harmful plan and hope that our local elected officials will support us in this effort.

Mike Pease is the CEO of The Chautauqua Center, a federally qualified health center that has been providing high-quality, patient-centered health and support services to the Chautauqua area since 2013.

Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *